It seems that in some current literature and discussions there is something of a competition as to which should be placed first: church, mission, or discipleship. In this competition the order is important because that which is named first is posited as the prism through which the other two are to be understood and configured.
The argument seems to go that one of the problems of the Church is that historically it has also thought about the Church first – what it was and what it should be like and how it should organize itself. This was maybe okay in the ‘old Christendom’ days but will now simply not do. The concerns about this perceived model are genuine and important.
Thus came the challenge of ‘mission’. Mission it is argued predates the Church, at least the mission of God does and as a consequence the Church should be shaped by a prior commitment to participating in the mission of God. Thus the valid concern for Churches to be missional communities.
The priority place of mission, however, has faced its own challenge from ‘discipleship’. In contrast to talking first about the church or indeed even mission we need to focus on discipleship. Basically, the argument goes we are never going to get missional communities unless people are being properly discipled.
I think that each of these emphasis rightly brings a corrective to the other two. Indeed, that is the point, they belong in an integrated relationship where none can really claim the priority. Indeed this might be the problem, that we keep separating that which belongs together prioritizing on over and against another when they all need to be integrated under something greater.
I would argue, therefore, that each of these, Church, mission, discipleship, is an expression of journeying on the way under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When Jesus calls someone he calls them to be with him, into the community of others who also respond to his call, and to be involved in his mission. Athol Gill argued this is the pattern we find in the narrative of Mark’s journey.
First, last and centre is the living Jesus Christ (Alpha and Omega) and the rest, revolve around and live under his Lordship taking specific shape and form as people seek what he is saying to them through Word and Spirit, where he wants them to go , and thus working out and seeking to faithfully practice what it means to be Church, do mission, and look like a disciple in context. The problem with this is that it is a bit unpredictable, uncertain, dynamic, changing…kind of like following the carpenter not sure where it would lead and ever learning on the way.